Stringers | Nine

Buttercup creaked, rocking ever so with the shift in weight and then regained equilibrium as the girl emerged from the van and dropped to the ground in time to watch Caspar, board under arm, disappear behind a stand of sword fern waving in time with the breeze.

A serpentine of severe switchbacks, only inches wide in places, carved a treacherous path in the near-vertical slope long ago abandoned by state forestry; their only responsibility now was to post signs warning of sheer cliffs, falling rock and unstable soil. One misstep and a twelve hundred foot flight to the beach would be a blink rather than about seventy minutes by more traditional means. Roots and rocks slick with moss and lichen interrupted the trail regularly adding to the challenge of balance and forward progress. Thirty minutes into the descent Caspar paused for a moment at a widening of the passage to take in the magnificence laid out before him. And for that moment, the girl did not breathe.

Shadowing Caspar, but at some distance and out of sight, she watched as he inched ever closer to the edge of an earthen shelf that weakened with every step, a cornice of dirt and tangled root supported by nothing but grace.

Before Caspar’s eyes the endless sea took on a flat calm and seemed to withdraw, bringing the island ever closer, moving it forward against the horizon belying the true distance of his first destination. A ceiling of cast iron-grey compressed the atmosphere, adding a sense of urgency as the rain blew wild and the ground beneath Caspar’s feet fell away.

As she was about to call out alerting Caspar to the danger, he took a step back and then another as he turned to continue his descent, never knowing how close he had come.

Caspar emerged from the forest to a blast of wind and stiff curtain of rain and the briny smell of wet sand. Never breaking stride, he made for the waves slapping at the beach. Real estate reclaimed a handful at a time by the incoming tide. Soon the tide would reverse, soon the time would come for the crossing.

to be continued

Stringers | Eight

Ages ago the universe had decided the sun would rise at 4:17am on this day. Given no argument to the contrary, that is exactly what happened as the veil of dawn lifted before a darkening menace of cloud. Throughout the night the winds had gained intensity, whistling through the straining limbs of the ancient rain forest dense with hemlock and red cedar. An occasional gust sent a shudder through Buttercup, a response to the impending storm with sounds from the ocean’s belly adding depth to a building, climatic orchestra.

Now with morning minutes old, a finger of light probed the shadows of the cliff-side campsite, finding a gap in the blinds that shielded the van’s windows and taking a poke at Caspar’s forehead. Unaware of the source of his irritation, Caspar raised a hand to swat away the annoyance that penetrated his waking dreams. As the sun arced higher in the early sky, warmth emanating from the finger spread across Casper’s face until he could no longer deny the calling.

Feigning sleep, the girl peered in silence between folded arms as the young man gained his feet, stretched, and surveyed a pile of gear laid out before him. Red waterproof pack, full-body wetsuit, wax, leash and a small stuff-sack of food, all appeared to meet Caspar’s approval as he nodded a silent ‘let’s do it’. Dressed only in cotton shorts he opened the van’s side sliding door and stepped down barefooted on to the hard-packed earth and stone covered in a carpet of old-growth detritus.

Present, he stood alert, absorbing the sights and sounds of the moment. Above, the forest canopy filtered the sun and blocked out a sky packed ever tighter by the angry storm. Below, the sound of the tide and waves, angered by onshore wind and rising sea level, sang alongside the frantic cry of a flock of gulls blown out of formation. To the west, Tatoosh Island shimmered in the distance, bejewelled behind a caul of silver-grey fog.

Returning his attention to Buttercup, Caspar retrieved the surfboard from the rooftop carrier, felt the weight, comforted by the familiar lines and curve of the rail. Satisfied with things as they were, he propped the board against the moss-covered trunk of an enormous Douglas-fir, retreating to the shelter of Buttercup as the first drop of rain pierced the umbrella of evergreens. Shrugging on an old hooded sweatshirt, and lacing up a worn pair of leather boots, he collected the wet-pack, transferred the neoprene suit and other essentials to the red bag, rolled the top over twice, snapped the clip ensuring the seal. Casting a tentative glance in the girl’s direction, he shouldered the load and slipped out once again, this time with no plans to return.

to be continued

Stringers | Seven

Bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling, piercing the darkness and casting hollows of yellow light through dense, stagnant air, the only obvious window boarded up and pinned with pictures of impossible waves. High bar tables and stools filled the room, peanut shells dusted the bare wood floor. The bar itself formed the centerpiece of the establishment, an enormous cedar log stretching the length of the back wall, carved in the likeness of a totem pole. Surveying the room Caspar set his sights on a winged image mid-bar.

Being Saturday night the bar was at full staff setting the number of employees at three; one leathered biker type and two indigenous barmaids. Biker type, an enormous bald-headed Spartan, had to be the owner as he spewed abuse on an underage patron but did nothing to discourage his cash contributions to the bars bottom line or healthy rate of liquid consumption. Barmaid one was either the owner’s wife or in training for the honour by keeping up in both leather and ballast. Barmaid two did not belong.

Tallish and lean, the young girl’s raven hair sat tied up in a bunch pinned together by a pair of bone needles, leaving the length undetermined. She glowed with healthy light brown skin and possessed wide-set eyes with a depth that appeared to look at everyone twice. Her knowing smile confirmed that assessment. From behind the bar and behind her back, aided by a wall patched together with hand-etched tiles, the girl watched Caspar part the doors, evaluate the room and target the solid wood bar. Appraising this stranger as he edged for a stool, more curious than business.

ID,” she inquired. Absorbing the California license, ‘Twenty-seven tomorrow, what brings ya here dude?” Mocking him seemed fair.

Canoes,” replied Caspar. But she already knew this beyond the one-word reply read from his lips over the bellow of biker type’s spouse to be.

Head tilted in query and with some concern, “Kill yourself on your birthday? Cool. You know there’s a storm?” Most ill-timed deaths in these parts were from alcohol or drugs. What this thoughtful looking stranger seemed to want to accomplish was new and curious, unexpected.

So what are we drinking birthday boy?”

Second thoughts on the beer. “Just water,” replied Caspar.

And to?”

Brian Jones.” And she knew this too. As a child she loved Winnie-the-Pooh.

Adding burger and fries to his request for water, Caspar sat wrapped in his thoughts, staring blindly into the infinity of vodka bottles mirrored back from the reflective glass squares. At some point in his reverie the girl had refreshed Caspar’s water, setting the glass touching the edge of a soft blue notecard folded diagonally through the middle, ‘off at midnight’ in tidy block printing.

to be continued…

Stringers | Six

Stringers scripted in sky blue neon blazed away, indicating the entrance to the popular dive and occasionally Chamber of Commerce. Caspar had noted the establishment en route to the cape and drove the six-mile loop back for a celebratory beer and something to eat before ending the evening at the rugged overlook to spend one last night in Buttercup.

Parking well down the street he began the march to Stringers which hung balanced on a stone and cable bulkhead, the bar itself serving as the gateway to an old and suspect jetty. Defying Mother Nature, the pier rolled and groaned with the pull of the moon and the unrelenting strain and weight of surging seawater. Extending thirty yards out over the water, Caspar could see the ends of cigarettes pulsing and darting in the darkness, a dance expressed by the hands that held them.

Darkness fell in silence this night as the clouds piled up, blocking out the sunset and giving the damp salty air infused with smoldering tobacco and dazzling embers an added sense of the mystic. As Caspar closed the distance on the threshold, the sound of the incoming tide smacking the sea wall and pilings assured him of his decision.

Bumping through classic western style battling doors, he confronted yet more smoke and the smothering din of a bustling weekend crowd disproportionate with locals. Static from the sound system interfered with the driving rhythm of some popular grunge band, words that strained to reach, but not register with Caspar’s ear. And if the channel had not changed on a screen mounted in the corner above a glass case displaying bounced checks, he might also have heard news of a storm brewing in Alaska. A storm that was sending a swell East South East reaching the cape tomorrow afternoon with a promise of waves breaking ten to twelve feet on the face.

to be continued…

Maasai Tales

As I understand the tale…a hyena will throw his feces at you to show that it is white…this indicates that he drinks milk and is from wealth.

It was colder at the corner just like they said it would be. From the corner you could see for miles above the dry grass and flat tops of the acacia that dotted the valley below. The Kikuyu had driven away all the wildlife.  Tarmac seemed out of place but lead to the borehole and rows and rows of clothes left out to dry in the rising sun. Our road went off to the right and into the red clay and fell steeply towards a trench cut by the new rains that morning.

This really the way?”

See that cloud?”

As if that was an assurance.

to be continued…